Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Facing Memories of Sexual Trauma

In the past, I spoke pf promiscuity. I even mentioned my teen pregnancy. But I couldn’t talk about the rest of it. I couldn’t’ face the pain, the shame.

For decades I couldn’t file any of my sexual experiences under the label rape. After all, no one applied physical force—the sex was always consensual. Nor was I comfortable using the label statutory rape, even though when I was a minor, most of my sexual partners were not. At the time, I knew what I was doing—I wanted it.

            About five years ago, during a writing retreat, I challenged myself to write a piece that would shock my seemingly unflappable writing coach. As I searched my inner files for an appropriate topic, my sexual encounter with Assaf jumped out at me. I wrote about it in gory detail.

Assaf and I were in the same army unit. He was my best friend there—we talked about anything and everything—

Wait! That wasn’t what I wrote during the retreat. I wrote about giving Rueben a blowjob. I didn’t want to, but he held my head down, but that was definitely Assaf, not Reuben. With Reuben, I was fifteen or sixteen years old, and he was in his twenties. He wanted to have sex with me in a bath, but the pressure caused me too much pain. He then wanted me to give him a hand job. I reluctantly complied—

I have to stop. my heart is pounding and tears are welling up

Flashbacks abounded over the next few days, of the unbearable pressure as Reuben tried to break through my barrier of pain, of my gorge rising, of my hands pinned down.

Finally, today, I can write. The lump in my throat not yet tangible.  

I try to count—Reuben and Assaf, Neri, the base commander, the drivers, and Micha, of course. I give up. I know there were more.

I remember feeling Ruthi’s glare, her lip curled in disgust. I remember the hunger on Motti’s face. Did they call me a slut behind my back?

A few years ago, Mum joked about my many boyfriends. I tried to tell her that most of my sexual encounters were not consensual. I even used the word rape. I wanted to cry into her shoulder like I used to when I was young. But she didn’t react.

Did she not hear me? Or did she choose to be deaf to my words? Could she not bear to hear me? Perhaps Mum was ashamed of me.

In my adulthood, I couldn’t talk about it. Mum’s non-reaction validated my shame. When issues related to teenage-angst arose in conversation with friends, I was able to speak of being a stoner and I sometimes mentioned my pregnancy.

I’m sixty years old now—it’s been more than four decades since I was a teenager. I’ve managed to keep thoughts of my shameful behavior at bay all that time.

I’ve felt the need to write about it over the past year. Or has it been two? The compulsion to face that particular demon is strong. But I can’t—I can barely manage a page before I have to stop. I’ve tried several approaches, but so far, my inner critic, Shoshana, has succeeded to keep me from unraveling the pain.

Perhaps by writing about writing I’ll manage to outwit her.